The US was searching for Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony for years before it sent troops to central Africa last year, but it was using American contractors instead of the military, the Washington Post finds in a detailed look at the program code-named "Tusker Sand." Private contractors supply the pilots, planes, and the experts needed to process intelligence collected from a surveillance program that covers a huge swath of the continent.
The plainclothes contractors attract a lot less attention than military personnel, but the military has made it clear that if things go wrong, contractors can't expect any protection above that which any US citizen would receive. Things did go wrong when one surveillance plane was forced to make an emergency landing in a small town in the Central African Republic in 2010, one contractor says. Suspicious tribal leaders detained the crew, who contacted the State Department and United Nations, but found them unwilling to intervene. "Eventually, we were able to talk our way out of it," he said. "That’s all we did over there, pay people off and talk our way out of situations." Click here for the full piece. (Read more US military stories.)